Blog Archives

Six years, and Shono’s Japanese Grill still pleases

Grilled chicken and shrimp is one of several combinations popular with diners at Shonos Japanese Grill in Riverchase.

Grilled chicken and shrimp is one of several combinations popular with diners at Shonos Japanese Grill in Riverchase.

Any restaurant that has us coming back regularly for six years has to be doing something right.

The simple fact is that Shonos Japanese Grill—on Hwy 31 just north of the Cahaba River in the same shopping center as Hobby Lobby—has never disappointed.

Run by Eddie and Flora Cui, Shonos has gained a loyal following over the years, and it’s little wonder why.

Whether it’s the grilled chicken, shrimp or “Eddie’s special” beef entree, Eddie and Flora pride themselves on making sure that any choice you make is fresh and flavorful.

Shonos does a strong business during lunch.  One reason is because time-sensitive visitors who work in the Hoover area know they can get in and out without having to worry about a slow kitchen; Eddie cooks everything himself.

Eddie and Flora Cui have simple goals for Shonos:  Good food that's reasonably priced.

Eddie and Flora Cui have simple goals for Shonos: Healthy, good tasting food that’s reasonably priced.

Entrees are made to order, but Shonos knows how to deliver with only a few minutes waiting.

The fancy theatrics so popular at many Japanese steakhouses don’t happen here, so if you’re looking for someone to flip a shrimp in your mouth, you’ll probably be disappointed.

What you can count on is consistently good food at prices that won’t make you feel as if you’ve made a big financial sacrifice.

Eddie and Flora take pride in food that’s healthy, too.  They recently started offering brown rice (in addition to steamed and fried), and their food contains no MSG.

Service is always friendly and efficient; Flora sees to that.

Shonos does a lot of to-go business.  Orders for pick-up can be placed by calling 205-988-3319.

You can check out the Shonos website here…

Shonos is open Monday through Saturday, for lunch and dinner.

USDA Loans Snagged by Gov’t Shutdown

A quick update to the report we shared September 29th involving USDA’s no-down-payment loans for homes in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area…

While USDA has announced that its loans will continue beyond the earlier announced September 30th cutoff date, the Agency now says processing of all loans is frozen because of the federal government’s October 1st shutdown.

This also means that the extension beyond September 30th is on hold, as well, until Congress gets the government going again.

If you’re wanting to buy a home with no-down-payment financing in the meantime, we’d recommend contacting some of the Lenders we know in the area who have experience helping people obtain these kind of mortgages and who know about possible alternatives to USDA.

Self-employed people who are applying for loans for home purchases are likely to be affected by the shutdown, as well.  That’s because Lenders won’t be able to get tax transmittals from the Internal Revenue Service to help verify income.

Hoover Home Has Chef’s Dream Kitchen

This stunning 3BR home in Lake Cyrus---not far from downtown Birmingham---sparkles, and is move-in ready.

This stunning 3BR home in Lake Cyrus—not far from downtown Birmingham—sparkles, and is move-in ready. The Seller is offering a GE high efficiency washer and dryer, along with 46″ Sony 3D smart TV, high end receiver and surround system.

The owner is an executive Chef. Care to guess what his home’s Kitchen is like?

If you’re thinking fabulous gourmet Kitchen with all the high end features, you’ve nailed it.

We can’t help but think this fabulous 3BR home in Hoover’s Lake Cyrus (a popular Birmingham, Alabama, neighborhood) is going to sell quickly.

Loaded with upgrades and featuring one level living (plus a large upstairs Bonus Room complete with high definition TV and surround system), this 4-sides-brick home enjoys a great cul-de-sac location in a popular swim and tennis community with sought after Hoover schools.

Check out the video we’ve just produced—and let us know if you’re interested, or if you know someone who might be:

The Buyers We Can’t Help

Was I nuts?

The 5BR home our Buyers own—measuring roughly 4,000 square feet—sits on a lake, complete with boat dock and 5 car garage outside of the Birmingham area.

After all, most Agents would welcome the chance we had: To work with the husband and wife who called a few days ago about a home we have listed for sale in Alabaster.

We really need to find a place, the wife tells me.

Moving here from out of area and pre-approved by their local bank to spend up to $300,000, they tell of their frustrating efforts to find a home in Birmingham.

And yet, I would wind up sitting down with them face to face and telling them what some might consider unthinkable: “Sorry, we can’t help you.”

After determining that the house they called about is not a good match, I ask a little more about their situation, and if they’d like help with finding a suitable property.

I get an earful.

They have put full price Offers on two homes, only to have the houses “sell right out from under us,” the husband says.

They had tried to get help from two other Realtors in the area.

“They’ve put us on the back burner,” the husband tells me during a half hour phone call. “I’ll ask to see a particular home a week ahead of time, and nothing happens,” he says.

There is nothing Colleen and I hate worse than hearing about Agents who are non-responsive to their Clients. This kind of behavior makes all of us in the profession look bad.

In our roughly 15 years combined of helping people buy and sell homes in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area, one critical step we always follow is to learn as much as we can about our Buyer’s particular situation.

It pays to listen.

The Offers that failed, it turns out, were both made on the condition that the Buyers could first sell their existing home.

From the description of their home—five bedrooms, over 4,000 square feet on a beautiful lake setting, five car garage, in-ground pool and boat dock—you’d sure think it would go easily…especially in today’s market.

I look their home up on MLS and the Internet. Sales price: Just under $600,000.

My conclusion about their place: Very nice.

Sales data I uncover for the property suggests that these folks paid less than half their current asking price when they bought it. Maybe they’ve put some money into the place over the years.

I can certainly understand that one Agent they’d contact would be a dud.

But two Agents? That’s possible.


In my mind, questions are starting to rise.

Then comes the bombshell.

They’ve been trying to sell their home for two years.


No home should be on the market that long.

During one of our phone calls, I ask the husband more questions.

How many Offers have you gotten? Answer: None

How many showings do you typically get each month? Answer: Maybe one.

Home for sale in Alabaster, Alabama

Part of the process in getting your home sold means adjusting the price, if needed, and monitoring market response closely. If Buyers aren’t showing interest, that’s a clear message.

What kind of Feedback do you get from those showings? Answer: Everyone says it’s a very nice home.

Has anyone ever told you that your home may be overpriced? Answer: Absolutely not.

So, why, then, do you think your home hasn’t sold? Answer: There just aren’t that many people who can afford homes in our price range. Besides, he adds, none of the homes for sale in their area have sold in a long time.

Remember those roughly 15 years selling homes I mentioned? They’ve taught us other things, too.

Experienced Agents know that when homes fail to sell, it’s almost always for at least one of three reasons:

  • Price
  • Location
  • Condition

With the setting on the lake and the home’s general appearance, I’m able to eliminate two of the three causes immediately.

Price, then, can be the only reason.

My exchanges with these people make it clear to me that there is a lot they may not understand, including the changes that are taking place in the Birmingham and Shelby Co. area housing market:

  • Inventory has dropped;
  • It’s not a Buyer’s market any longer;
  • Sellers have more clout than they did a couple of years ago;
  • Multiple Offers are occurring again;
  • More homes are starting to sell in shorter amounts of time (sometimes, new Listings go Under Contract within one to two weeks of going on market);
  • More Sellers who price appropriately and have their homes in top condition are getting full asking price or close to it

I realize, too, the probable effect of a recent local MLS rules change on our Buyers, which they may not be aware of.

The rules change requires homes that go Under Contingency Contract be removed from Active Listings and moved to a different category. This reduced exposure, while waiting on the Buyer’s home to sell, is not likely to be attractive to most Sellers.

As a result, many Sellers—at the advice of their Agents—are not accepting home sale Contingency Offers unless the Buyer’s home is already Under Contract to sell. This is understandable; Sellers want at least some assurance that they will be able to actually sell their home, as opposed to losing valuable time on market, only to have the Contingency Contract fall apart if the Buyer’s home fails to sell.

It’s time, I decide, to share some market and general buying knowledge with these people. I sit at the computer and start drafting an e-mail with information they should find useful.

In the meantime, I get a text message.

They’ve found a home for sale in the area they’d like to see today. It’s a Short Sale. They want to know if we can show it to them that afternoon.

I look the home up on MLS. It’s available, and it’s occupied.

There’s a hitch: Lenders in a Short Sale will not accept Contingent Offers based on the sale of the Buyer’s property.

I also look at personal considerations: We would be asking the occupant to let us show their home to people I now realize have very little chance of actually being able to carry through with a purchase at this point in time, even if they wanted to.

We’ve learned—and our Broker, Keller Williams Realty, preaches a lot—that successful sales need to be a win-win for everyone involved.

This means that we need to assess carefully the viability of our Clients to actually carry through and meet their goals.

While I might represent the Buyers and not the Sellers, is asking to show this home under these circumstances appropriate? Is this likely to be a win-win for everyone?

I respond that I can’t show them the home. Instead, I decide, it’s time to have a conversation.

I recommend that we meet in person at our office that afternoon. They agree.

“This is the situation I see you in,” I say, while seated at our conference table. I hold up a note pad.

“First, your main focus is trying to find a home here in the Birmingham/Shelby Co. area,” as I scribble point number one. “And you’re finding it difficult.”

Writing down my assessment of our Buyers’ current situation, as well as a path to follow to reach success, seemed to resonate with both the husband and wife.

Heads nod in agreement.

“Second,” as I write point number two, “You’re not getting help from the Realtors you’ve called, and you’re finding that extremely frustrating.”

“Absolutely,” I’m told. Heads are really nodding now, with facial expressions providing more confirmation.

“And third,” as I keep writing, “You’re still dealing with trying to get your own home sold, something you’ve been unable to do for two years.”

I almost hear an ‘amen, brother.’

There is total agreement; husband and wife relate 100% to everything I’ve said.

At this point, I describe what’s happening right now in the Birmingham area real estate market. I talk about how homes are selling. I explain why Sellers are unlikely to find their Offer—even at full price—attractive.

“One hundred percent of nothing is still nothing,” I tell them.

I share other valuations I’ve found for their property. And while I stress that none of those numbers should be considered reliable for pricing their home, there is such a wide disparity between them and the current asking price that I look straight at them and say, “I think this is a huge problem.”

I point out that inventory in the Shelby Co./Birmingham area can change substantially in less than a 60 day time frame. With no immediate prospect of selling their existing home, I tell them that, by the time they might actually be able to move ahead with a purchase, they would probably have to look at a different set of homes to choose from than is on market right now.

I then offer recommendations.

“First,” I say point blank to them, “Stop what you’re doing. It’s not working.”

I take my pen and abruptly strike through the bullet points I had just written down.

They seem a bit taken back.

No matter what home they find, and when they find it, I tell them that they can’t move ahead with buying until they sell their current home.

Getting your current place sold, I tell them, needs to be your absolute top priority over anything else.

I tell them that I feel very sure their home is overpriced, and that Buyers are, in fact, responding to this.

The silence Buyers have created for two years is deafening.

The husband reminds me that no other lake properties in the area have sold. I have a quick answer. That’s something we have seen before. “It may well be that they’re all overpriced,” I tell them.

“Every home will sell. There are Buyers out there.”

The husband mentions that they have to be able to walk away from the sale of their home with a certain amount of money.

“I completely understand,” I answer.

While I tell them I realize that how much money these folks clear from the sale of their home is very important to them, I point out that it’s of no concern at all to a Buyer.

The true value of your home, I tell them, is the figure at which a Buyer and a Seller agree to sit across from each other at a closing table.

Home for sale in Alabaster, Alabama

Homes in Birmingham are selling faster and easier, compared to previous years. Sellers who price appropriately and have their homes in top condition typically don’t have to wait long to receive an Offer.

I write down a new set of bullet points on my pad.

Number one, I recommend, is to get an appraisal. It’s the best independent assessment of their home’s actual probable value.

The husband mentions that they can use an appraisal from two years ago. Nope, I respond, that won’t work. It needs to be no more than about six months old. After looking at a current appraisal of their home’s probable selling price, I tell the couple that they’ll have a decision to make.

Number two, as I continue scribbling, is to adjust the sales price. And, I tell them, they have to keep adjusting it until they get sufficient interest—and an Offer that turns into a Contract—on their home.

Number three, as I talk and scribble, is to get their home Under Contract.

I conclude by scribbling item four: Start looking for your next home.

When they make it to point number three, I tell them, is when it’s time to pick up the phone and call us for help with finding a home in the Birmingham area.

And that’s more promising to be a win-win for everyone.

I tear the sheet off the notepad and hand it to the husband.

“Colleen and I would love to be your Agents,” I tell them, “but now you understand why we can’t help you with looking at homes right now.”

While our meeting concludes on a friendly tone, I sense that these folks are not walking out very happy.

Will we ever hear from them again?

Did we manage to lose a potential Buyer Client and sale?

I have no idea.

But my conscience is clear.

It’s about being honest and giving people information they need to know.

Even when they may not want to hear it.

Kitchen Talk: Flood Plain Blues

flood plain bluesColleen discusses what has been a complete surprise to a number of home owners and Buyers in the Birmingham area…

Lake Forest Summer ’13 Sales Update

If you’re looking to buy a home in the Birmingham, Alabama, area, Lake Forest—a lake and sidewalk neighborhood in Alabaster—is a popular choice for several reasons.

It’s attractive, offers a great quality of life, and is in a convenient location.  A number of people who work in Birmingham choose to live in Lake Forest because they enjoy it so much.

Alabaster is also home to the city’s newly formed school system, which has many excited for the future.

Here’s a video update showing homes selling and available in Lake Forest (you can watch this video in high definition if you like—simply click the ‘Full Screen’ icon in the lower right corner of the video window below).

Whether it’s Lake Forest or throughout the north Shelby Co. and south Jefferson Co. areas, we’re ready to help with your home buying or selling needs.

Let us know if we can answer any questions; we’re reachable at 205.356-5412 (voice or text).  

Start packing!


Vickers: ‘Perfect Storm’ For Alabaster Schools

Even if you don’t have a child in Alabaster schools…even if you don’t have any connection to the city’s school system, you can’t be around DSC_7025Wayne Vickers long without getting excited.

Alabaster is poised to become a top school system in the state, he’ll tell you.  Vickers isn’t bashful.  The city’s new school system superintendent, who began his job July 1st, will also tell you how the transformation will happen.

Vickers says Alabaster is in a perfect storm of resources, opportunity and people.

Vickers inspires.  His enthusiasm is contagious.

“We will not fail,” he vows.

Many parents have not had the chance to meet Dr. Vickers, or understand his vision for the city’s schools.

So, here’s your chance to hear the man and his plan.  Click the player in the video window below, and enjoy!

Helena Market Days

If you’re looking for a home for sale in the Birmingham area and don’t know the territory well, Shelby Co.—just south of Birmingham—offers a great quality of life.

If you want a great community to live in with plenty of things to do, here’s one of many reasons why Shelby Co. is so popular.

Lots of folks love Helena Market Days, the annual summer farmer’s market that takes place along Buck Creek in Helena every Saturday from 8am until noon.

We thought we’d share some sights and sounds of Market Days from our visit on July 13th.  And nope, we couldn’t leave without some of those wonderful Chilton Co. peaches…they’re just plain hard to beat!

Here’s where you can find more information on Helena Market Days.

Enjoy the video!



The Hardest Farewell


Spending time in the screened room at our home in Birmingham, enjoying the peaceful view of nature and watching hummingbirds squabble over feeder rights was Heaven on earth for David L. Black.

David Luther Black passed away late the morning of June 12, 2013 at his home in Santiago, Chile.

The past five days of my life have been the worst I’ve ever experienced.

I’ve travelled more than 11,000 miles and spent nearly 24 hours in the air going to, and coming from, a place I’ve never been.

But I would not trade those days for anything.

It’s all for my Dad, the Grandfather Dragon.

My trip—from Birmingham 5,000 miles south to Santiago, Chile—was likely my last chance to tell David L. Black anything and everything I’ve ever wanted to say, but didn’t.

This trip was to say goodbye.

Frail and declining, barely able to talk and unable to move, my father may or may not have understood that I had travelled so far to see him, face to face where he lay, in the bedroom of his home, 12 stories up in the polluted air of Santiago, only a few miles west of the Andes mountains.

At one point, when asked if he knew who I was, he said he had no idea.

I will never know for sure, although my best guess is that he knew I was there, at least part of the time.

Dad and David2 copy

A father and his young son enjoy a horseback ride while on vacation in the mountains of Red River, New Mexico, early 1960s.

Although physically apart my entire adult life, my father and I have always been close.  We each had our own lifestyles, work and preferences about where to live.

E-mails and phone calls between us were routine.  On special occasions—maybe once every year or so on average—I would get to see him.  A few times, I might get to see him more than once in a year…quite a treat.  Only while I was a child would we live in the same city.  After that, never again.

Are you one of those people whose father was always close by?  Perhaps a few blocks or a few miles away?  If so, I am envious.

Christmases and birthdays were almost never spent together.  But presents always showed up; he never forgot.  His marriage to his Chilean wife saw him relocate from Washington, D.C., and later Miami, to Santiago several years ago.

2013-06-05 16.55.01

From Santiago, how easily the Andes mountains, east of downtown, can be seen, depends on the amount of smog on any given day.

With his health declining, I wanted to be close to help.  His decision to move to South America was not one I embraced comfortably.  But it was his call.

During the few days I spent with him in Santiago, I didn’t hold back on anything I had ever wanted to say.

Father and son enjoy a September 2006 visit to Birmingham's Pepper Place farmer's market.

Father and son enjoy a September 2006 visit to Birmingham’s Pepper Place farmer’s market.

I told him how thankful I am to him for all the things he has made possible in my life (that brought an unmistakable grin from ear to ear).

But as I reflect back on the man who has been a continuous part of my life for over half a century, I realize that I have to let go of someone who has been much more than just Dad.  

He has been my constant friend, my cohort, the person with whom I could always share stories of the exciting or mundane.

My childhood is full of great memories with my father that I get to keep for the rest of my days.

From spending time on the Texas coast, to going to church in my hometown of San Antonio, to all the times he took me to Jim’s restaurant to get my favorite hamburger, the number 6 (hickory sauce with onions).

There were countless tennis matches we played (including during a vacation to Bermuda), and trips to the bowling alley on San Antonio’s Austin Highway.

Like his son, my father was a prolific writer.  As a child, he would tell me dragon stories before bed.  These were stories he always built around me and my childhood cat, Smudge.

MAR 03 2011 03

Fisbo always loved visits from ‘Grandpa’ because they meant an extra lap for parking and petting.

In the stories, a young boy named David and his cat, Smudge, made friends with powerful but friendly dragons who never had contact with any other humans, but helped fight evil or alleviate problems for mankind’s benefit.  Not a story went by without dragons shooting out fire and smoke in a blast always titled, “WHOOSH!”

Nearly every story drew wisdom and lessons learned from a much older, wiser fire breathing Grandfather Dragon who, despite his advancing age, was all knowing and all powerful.

During the last several years, Colleen and I convinced Dad to write a few more dragon stories and send them to us.  Whenever a new story arrived via e-mail, reading it—devouring it, really—was a treat for both of us.

Dad played a huge role in my start in the broadcasting business, helping me get hired for my first real summer job as a 14-year-old disc jockey on radio station KVOP in Plainview, the small Texas panhandle town where he grew up.

Dad arranged for me to live with his mother that summer in the same house where he grew up.  Still too young to drive, I rode my bicycle to work.  But that was okay:  I making $1.35 an hour and was a DJ on the radio.  I was on cloud nine.  It didn’t get any better than that.

Dad stood by me when I made all my life’s decisions, be they good ones or poor.

Yet, despite having plenty of opportunities to do so, I cannot ever recall one time when he was critical of me for something I had done.


Born and raised in the small Texas panhandle town of Plainview, David L. Black would become a world traveler, with business projects taking him to Europe, Asia and, most frequently, South America.

I can’t count the number of times he would tell me how proud of me he was for various accomplishments.

If I shared the news of a previous Client contacting us in our real estate business to help them with another sale, he would typically respond by saying something like, “It’s obvious that people in Birmingham know what a good job the two of you do.”

Last summer, I received what I suspected then would be a fabulous gift.

My father came to the states and stayed with us in Birmingham for almost three weeks.  It was a wonderful visit.  This was the longest time we had spent together in over 30 years.

He needed time to unwind, and that’s exactly what he did.  More than anything, he loved sitting in our home’s screened porch, enjoying the view of nature, and petting Fisbo, our six pound poodle, who was thrilled that ‘Grandpa’ was visiting, since that meant another available lap to occupy for getting attention.

Dad told Colleen and me he felt ten years younger as a result of his stay.

We urged him to stay longer (the Father motel is always open, I assured him), but he said he had to go back to Chile to tend to matters there.  With his difficulty walking, I cringed at the thought of him having to endure twelve hours of flying, making connections, clearing customs and waiting in lines.


Visits to Birmingham always included dining out. Dad got a real kick out of the night we went to a Persian restaurant, complete with a belly dancer.

He said he would be back, but seeing him struggle more and more to even walk, I wondered whether his stay with us then would be his last.

As my father’s years advanced, his stay in Chile seemed to come at more and more of a price.  He told me of trying to join churches there, but never feeling welcome as a foreigner in such a vastly different culture.

In many ways, I sensed he felt lonely.

I tried to keep in regular contact.  Discussions often focused on how much fun it would be to see him again.  “I’m sure looking forward to getting back and seeing you two,” he would say.

While staying with us, he began attending services at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, a small church only a few blocks from our home.  The Rev. Lee Lowery, a friendly and welcoming pastor there, helped give my Dad the spiritual nourishment he had been unable to find elsewhere.  It gave me peace to know he had found this respite of compassion.

Knowing that his remaining days left are likely few, I declared June 8th as Father’s Day in Chile.  I opened the card I had written and read it aloud to him at his bedside:

You will always be my father, and I will always be grateful
for what you have made possible in my life.

Thank you for being my constant friend and guide.

As I write this, how much more time remains—be it days, weeks or longer—is not for me to know.

I owe him so much.  I knew I could never forgive myself if I didn’t try to see him one last time.

“You better get here as soon as you can,” family members said.

As our American Airlines Boeing 767 shot across the equator at 500 miles an hour in the middle of the night last week, I prayed he would hold on for me to get there.

I kissed his forehead.

I will never forget you, I told him.

And in a turnaround from what I’ve heard all my life from him, I told him how proud I am of him.

I cannot begin to describe how much I will miss him.

While sitting by his bed, watching his body struggle with every breath and holding his hand and stroking his forehead, I heard an unmistakable, clear-as-day sound I absolutely did not expect.


Dad APR 05 2008 03

If you need to slip away, that’s okay, Dad.

I love you, Dad.


Alabaster’s CityFest: Fun For All

If you’re looking for a home for sale in the Birmingham area and are wondering what living in the community is like, here’s a taste.

Alabaster, one of Shelby county’s most popular cities, has just concluded another very successful CityFest, a family friendly day of food, arts, crafts, games, rides, entertainment and more, put together by the City of Alabaster with support from area businesses.

Check out our video of the festivities: